Checking for Understanding Resources

Checking for Understanding Strategie[i]s and Resources

Formatting is a mess for this post.  If you would like to see a copy of the original easier to read document please let me know.  I can be emailed at

  • One sentence or one word quizzes: This is not a fancy tool but it can be super effective at uncovering understanding and misunderstanding.  Unlike exit tickets that leave you with a pile of paper at the end of class using quick one sentence or one word summaries throughout the class allows you to really see what kids are thinking at key points in the lesson.  These can also be easily differentiated so slower workers can have the time to show their understanding and faster fliers don’t get frustrated and off task.
  • Personal Whiteboards are an amazing tool.
  1. Think time is super necessary.  Think about what fast finishers do while everyone wraps up.
  2. Demand how and where the board is held and when it is erased.
  3. There are lots of clever ways in the building that people make showing your work on a whiteboard fun (eraser races and other games) while encouraging a culture that says it is ok to show the wrong answer.
  • Signal Cards can be used during independent work or during other phases of the lesson as a direct content check or self evaluation.  Kids can have red/yellow/green card during independent practice to self evaluate and indicate their level of understanding.  Kids can hold up cards with answers on them.  It’s nice if making the cards is the kids’ job for homework to save some time and energy.
  • Corners of the room or assigning a place along a continuum can be an effective way to increase the accuracy of your checks for understanding.  Kids move to an area of the room according to their answer.  This can be a direct content check.  For example:  If you think the results of this experiment are valid go the left wall, if you think they are invalid go to the right.  If you are unsure stay in the middle. You can also use this movement for self evaluation.  If you are so masterful at editing commas that you could teach others go to this corner, if you think you would score 80-90 on a test right now go to this corner, if you know the purpose of commas but still don’t know where they belong go to the back by my desk. This kind of movement can allow for every targeted re-teaching or partnering.   As always building the culture and framing is important. You might frame the movement by saying: You are making a thoughtful choice based on knowing yourself ; if you make this choice for the wrong reason…I go where my friends go…then you are telling me to make this choice for you next time.
  • Hand Signals[ii] are great when you…

1. -give think time before kids show hand signals

2. -give clear directions about where hands should be.

3. -frame the cfu…you aren’t looking at your partner…I need to see what you know because otherwise I can’t help you.

  • Choral Response: This is a basic maneuver in most repertoires for getting kids to repeat or memorize information.  It can be a very effective CFU when …
  1. you ask a question that elicits a one word answer (What adjective best describes this character?  Does Communism allow more or less freedom that democracy? Which type of muscle is the heart?, What operation do I need to do first?)
  2. allow wait time (even a countdown cue) and then have kids call out.  This works because kids shouldn’t have the chance to cue off of others answers.
  3. You can pay special attention to certain students as they respond or listen for interesting answers to follow up with probing questions (I heard a lot of people say Communism allows less freedom but I heard a couple people say more.  Why might someone think Communism allows for more freedom?)
  • 3-2-1: At the ending a chunk of instruction students write down

3 things that interest you

2 things that you like to know more about

1 thing that you need to see more examples of

You can structure the 3-2-1 more deliberately to uncover misunderstanding.  If my aim were: Compare and contrast slavery and segregation.

3 things in common between slavery and segregation

2 important differences between slavery and segregation

1 thing you don’t understand or want to know about on this topic.

This is a great opportunity to walk around the room and sample what kids are writing.  You might chose to immediately address a common misconception or pocket the knowledge for later re-teaching.

  • Paired Verbal Fluency: This is one of my favorites because it emphasizes listening in partner conversations.  It’s a useful addition to the toolbox if you are tiring out think pair share or unstructured partner talk.  Students get into pairs.  One partner is #1 and the other is #2.  The teacher assigns a topic or question.

Partner #1 starts telling any idea he or she can thinking of about the topic.
Partner #2 listens carefully but says nothing.

After 45 seconds

#2 talks for an equal length of time and # 1 listens.

You can repeat this process several times and then have the kids summarize their sharing by identifying any disagreements or discrepancies. The teacher should be moving around the room listening.

  • Synectics or Analogies can be a powerful way to check for depth of understanding.

1. The teacher (or if you are feeling feisty the kids) name four common objects.

Doorknob Car
Tree DVD

2. Brainstorm 3-5 similes for each object and the topic you are learning about.  For instance compare the cardiovascular system to one of the objects below. This assignment can shortened-choose one object and write a simile.You might experience  flummoxed reaction from the kids the first time you try this.  Why are we writing similes in science?  I can’t think of anything, etc. After kids hear a few of their teammates creative and thoughtful responses they usually buy in.  It’s a great opportunity to see which kids are achieving a high vs. basic level of understanding.  The cardiovascular system is like a car because it helps you get places vs.  The cardiovascular system is like a car because they both stop working if you fill up on junk and the wrong intakes.

  1. One word summary-Write one word that summarizes what you have learned and two to three sentences to explain your choice.  This summary can be paired with a choral response to give the teacher a quick broad read of the class.
  1. ABC Summary: Each student is given a letter of the alphabet and they must think of one word or idea beginning with that letter and related to the topic studied.  Give some wait time for this one and model well.  ABC summary can then be a useful way to hear from lots of in depth responses from students without boring the class as a whole.  The goofy, can you top this vibe of this summarizer allows kids to safely risk showing confusion or understanding.

Student #1: A great way to organize word problems is with a matrix

Student #2: Be careful to include only relevant information on your matrix.

Student #3: Clueless Kippsters forget the labels on their matrix.

And so on…

  1. The concept check is a means of checking for conceptual understanding started by Harvard physics prof Ed Mazur.  You don’t need handheld computers or clickers you just need to design a short, high quality qualitative question.  For example: a rubber bullet and a n aluminum bullet equal in mass and size are fired at a block of wood at the same speed.  Which is more likely to knock the block over? An ELA or SS version of this concept check might be…Which character or historical figure we studied is most likely to agree that power corrupts? Give the students think time and then have them talk  I read about Mazur’s work here -the article is short and it’s a great read.  You can also see video here It’s one of the most powerful additions to the repertoire in the last few years.
  1. Draw a picture or diagram. This is a great check for surfacing confusions and can be used in conjunction with whiteboards.  A few examples: Draw something I would find in both ecosystems we read about.  Draw a line.  Label the right evil and the left good and right the two characters names above where they are on that line.

[i] These resources mainly come from the work of Jon Saphier and RBT.

[ii] Madeline Hunter writes very thoughtfully about how use hand signals correctly.


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